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Forbidden Hollywood Collection - Volumes One & Two


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#16 miliosr

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Posted 18 September 2011 - 04:46 PM

It's an Elsa Maxwell dinner party in the late forties. Nothing dissolute going on. Truly dissolute parties were relatively rare in Hollywood back then, everyone had to be up bright and early on Monday morning.

Oh, I wasn't implying that something untoward was going on in that photo. I just got this vibe of . . . dissipation? . . . when I saw it.

Stanwyck was a far better actor than Shearer and her reputation is higher today among buffs, but she also worked successfully in movies and television for many years as she got older, whereas Shearer's retirement turned out to be permanent and because of her mental decline in her latter years a second career as a grande dame was not in the cards for her. Stanwyck also made classics like Double Indemnity and The Lady Eve.

I'm amazed at how long and varied Stanwyck's career was. She started out at the tail end of the silent era and then was a leading lady for the next 30 years. When her career as a female lead in movies petered out, she managed to avoid the "horror hag" trap Crawford and Davis fell into by doing all sorts of interesting projects (an Elvis Presley musical, The Big Valley, a memorable episode of Charlie's Angels, The Thorn Birds mini-series and the Aaron Spelling soap The Colby's).

I read that Linda Christian had died. Gorgeous woman. Her ex-husband Power appears to have been genuinely bisexual, with his most serious involvements reserved for women, and not terribly conflicted about the business either way, so good for him.

Funny you should mention that. Captain from Castile was on television today and, watching it, I couldn't help but think about the rumors regarding Power and Cesar Romero.

#17 dirac

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Posted 18 September 2011 - 07:35 PM

I didn't mean to suggest you did, miliosr, sorry. I see what you and sandik mean. The Duke of Windsor always had that slightly melancholy look, even when he was partying up a storm as an international idol in the 20s.

You can't help liking Stanwyck. She could do almost anything. You are right to say she also made smart choices - although I'd rather have What Ever Happened to Baby Jane on my resume than Roustabout, in all honesty. I understand this was also true offscreen, she was very professional and likable and no one had a bad word to say about her.

I remember her in The Colbys. (I always liked that show.) I also liked The Big Valley. Used to watch it in the wee hours of the morning in college when I was working on papers. (From Airplane!: "Nick! Heath! Jarrod! There's a fire in the barn!")

#18 miliosr

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 04:44 PM

I didn't mean to suggest you did, miliosr, sorry. I see what you and sandik mean. The Duke of Windsor always had that slightly melancholy look, even when he was partying up a storm as an international idol in the 20s.

The more I look at the picture, the more it's discomfort I see and not dissipation. Even though the guests were at an outdoor dinner party, most of them look like they're not enjoying themselves much. Some of it may be due to the circumstances of the photograph itself -- various guests aren't even looking at the camera (Power) or have a surprised look on their faces (Gable). What this photo reminds me of is the famous group photo from 1968 or 1969 of Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, Erick Hawkins, Jose Limon, Yvonne Rainier, Don Redlich, Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp which bristled with tension and unhappiness.

You can't help liking Stanwyck. She could do almost anything. You are right to say she also made smart choices - although I'd rather have What Ever Happened to Baby Jane on my resume than Roustabout, in all honesty. I understand this was also true offscreen, she was very professional and likable and no one had a bad word to say about her.

I agree. It would be perverse to argue that Roustabout is remotely within hailing distance of Baby Jane. Still, I can't help but think that the lesser film ended up being the smarter career choice. Stanwyck showed that she could move into character parts in genre vehicles without having to run around a set with an axe in her hand.

I remember her in The Colbys. (I always liked that show.)

Me too! It was crazy at times (i.e. an amnesiac heiress from Denver turns up in Los Angeles where she marries her ex-husband's first cousin) but Stanwyck's scenes with Stephanie Beacham were fantastic.

I also liked The Big Valley. Used to watch it in the wee hours of the morning in college when I was working on papers. (From Airplane!: "Nick! Heath! Jarrod! There's a fire in the barn!")

Linda Evans was so beautiful in that as she was in Dynasty. And then she had to go and ruin her face! :(

#19 dirac

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Posted 20 September 2011 - 09:38 AM

Me too! It was crazy at times (i.e. an amnesiac heiress from Denver turns up in Los Angeles where she marries her ex-husband's first cousin) but Stanwyck's scenes with Stephanie Beacham were fantastic.


Beacham was my favorite on the show and a good match for Stanwyck. The show was indeed intermittently nuts but still very enjoyable IMO in spite of Emma Samms. They don't make 'em like that any more.

#20 miliosr

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Posted 13 January 2012 - 05:32 AM

I watched Female (1933) last night, which is on the second disc of the Forbidden Hollywood - Volume 2 set. Here is a handy plot summary:

http://en.wikipedia....ki/Female_(film)

SPOILERS AHEAD

If it's possible for a movie to be proto-feminist and anti-feminist at the same time, this movie shows how. The first three-quarters of the movie are definitely pre-Code in that the Ruth Chatterton character, Alison, is a hard-driving auto executive who routinely seduces her male employees and then casts them aside. The last quarter is full-on post-Code as Alison decides to give up running her auto factory, and turns over control to her employee/boyfriend Jim (played by George Brent) so she can stay at home and bear him children. Barf!!!

Chatterton is a lot of fun as Alison, and Brent is a decent enough as Jim. (His part is unsympathetic; hence my ambivalence.) Johnny Mack Brown has a small, supporting role as one of Alison's cast-offs. (Brown was freelancing at this time, as the rise of Clark Gable at M-G-M torpedoed his career at that studio. He probably didn't help himself at Metro if his inconsistent speaking voice in Female is any indication -- he goes back and forth between his natural Alabama accent and a mid-Atlantic Metro accent. In any event, he would soon find his true emploi as the star of numerous Western serials and B-movies.)

Finally, the print transfer is outstanding.

#21 dirac

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Posted 13 January 2012 - 11:42 AM

Thanks, miliosr. I don't think you can call Female and its ilkproto-feminist in any respect, unless the mere showing of a woman in authority as part of a setup to bring her down counts as feminist (you also saw this kind of boss-lady-learns-to-quit-her-job-and-become-a-real-woman during WWII, reminding the ladies that eventually it would be time to give up their jobs and make room for Daddy). Chatterton isn't a very sympathetic boss and it's best all around when she elects to quit. I remember this one as being pretty entertaining.

#22 miliosr

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Posted 13 January 2012 - 05:09 PM

Chatterton isn't a very sympathetic boss

Which is precisely why the ending is such a cheat.

I remember this one as being pretty entertaining.

Agreed. It moves along at a fast clip and never takes itself too seriously. It's inferior to Night Nurse and Baby Face but superior to The Divorcee and A Free Soul.

#23 miliosr

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Posted 11 April 2012 - 03:51 AM

I purchased Volume 3 of the Forbidden Hollywood series, which has as its unifying theme the fact that William Wellman directed all of the films on the discs:

http://en.wikipedia....William_Wellman

The first one I watched is another Barbara Stanwyck potboiler, The Purchase Price (1932):

http://en.wikipedia...._Purchase_Price

The Purchase Price reunited Stanwyck and Wellman from the prior year's Night Nurse and paired her with George Brent (with whom she would co-star in the following year's Baby Face.) Sadly, The Purchase Price doesn't come close to the other two Stanwyck movies in this series -- The Purchase Price is inferior to Night Nurse and far inferior to Baby Face.

Stanwyck is her usual brisk, no-nonsense self in this but even she is stymied by a script that doesn't know what it wants to be. The movie starts out as a mob drama then morphs into a "comedy" about two mismatched individuals then becomes a tense marital drama then turns into a Depression-era "save the farm" message picture. All of this in 67 minutes!

Brent is no help at all to Stanwyck as his leaden performance undercuts whatever energy Stanwyck can muster in their scenes together. Furthermore, his part is so unsympathetic that the viewer is left wondering why Stanwyck has fallen in love with him and why she is sticking with him.

The pre-Code content of the film revolves mostly around Stanwyck in various states of undress and a party sequence involving much drunkenness. The latter wouldn't even register today as scandalous but, at the time of the movie's release, Prohibition was still nominally in effect.

The print transfer is superb for a movie of this age.

#24 miliosr

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Posted 16 April 2012 - 04:00 PM

The next movie I watched in the Forbidden Hollywood - Volume 3 set was another Ruth Chatterton vehicle, Frisco Jenny:

http://en.wikipedia....ki/Frisco_Jenny

Frisco Jenny is very much in the same vein as such selfless-mothers-who-will-do-anything-for-their-child melodramas as Stella Dallas and Madame X. What separates this movie from those two is Frisco Jenny herself -- she is an unrepentant criminal who starts out by running a prostitution ring and pretty much goes speeding down the sin highway from there. What really must have irked the moralists of the pre-Code period was that the Jenny character as written and portrayed did not exhibit the least bit of remorse about her criminal activities. To the contrary, the movie presents Jenny as a relatable person who is only trying to make ends meet in the face of economic adversity. Adding insult to injury, Jenny and her criminal pals come across as much more fun than Jenny's crusading, priggish district attorney son.

Chatterton is wonderful as Jenny, and I would argue that her final death row scene with her son is actually superior to a similar scene between Greta Garbo and Ramon Novarro in the overrated Mata Hari (1931). Donald Cook as Jenny's son Dan is a bit of blank. George Brent, who was originally cast as Dan, would have been better (given the decent rapport he had with Chatterton in the following year's Female). But one can't blame Chatterton for not wanting to play his mother given that she was about to marry him in real life!

All in all, Frisco Jenny is good, pre-Code fun. The print transfer is outstanding.

#25 miliosr

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Posted 29 April 2012 - 04:06 PM

The second movie on Disc 2 of the Forbidden Hollywood - Volume 3 set is Midnight Mary (1933), which stars Loretta Young, Ricardo Cortez, Franchot Tone, Una Merkel and Charlie Grapewin.

Of all the movies contained in this set, Midnight Mary is unique in that M-G-M produced it instead of Warner Brothers. In many respects, it was a hybrid of the two studios' styles -- the story is pure 'hard-burled' Warner Brothers but the look of the film is M-G-M at its most escapist (even the prison scenes look impossibly glamorous.) M-G-M conceived Midnight Mary as a vehicle for Jean Harlow (who turned it down) so they borrowed then nineteen-year-old Young and director William Wellman from Warner Brothers, and Ricardo Cortez from Paramount. (Tone, Merkel and Grapewin were all M-G-M players at the time.)

The titular character (played by Young) in this movie is basically good. But forces beyond her control conspire repeatedly to thwart her attempts to escape the underworld of crime and vice and lead a more virtuous life. In this respect, Midnight Mary is really more of a proto-noir than a typical Warner Brothers crime picture or M-G-M women's picture.

Young is a revelation as Mary (all the more so because she was so youthful at the time.) She moves effortlessly back and forth between a "tough cookie" persona and her real, more good-hearted self. To the extent she is remembered at all today, we remember Young for her goodie-goodie on-screen image and her situational hyper-Catholicism. That's a pity because the Loretta Young of Midnight Mary was so much more fascinating than that. (She is also ridiculously beautiful in this.)

Cortez is also quite good as Mary's gangster boyfriend. He had had a strong career in silent films as a B-list "Latin Lover" in the manner of Rudolph Valentino and Ramon Novarro. (This despite being from Austria.) Talkies finished him off as a Latin Lover but he managed to transition into character heavies for a time like the one he plays in Midnight Mary. (Eventually he would leave Hollywood altogether for a second, successful career on Wall Street!)

Tone plays Mary's good-guy love interest in the movie and he is well cast as the charming, urbane hero. In 1933, Tone was a rising star at M-G-M and he would go on to star in many M-G-M pictures throughout the 1930s, including seven with his future wife, Joan Crawford. He never became an A-list star and I wonder if he wasn't almost too charming for M-G-M. Perhaps he would have been better off at a studio like Paramount with its sophisticated Lubitsch comedies.

Merkel and Grapewin offer fine support although both would go on to greater fame (for Grapewin in particular) in 1939: Merkel in Destry Rides Again and Grapewin (as Uncle Henry) in The Wizard of Oz.

The only negative for me was the impossibly happy happy ending. The ending to Frisco Jenny was much better and more honest, but then M-G-M didn't become M-G-M because it cared about realism.

Midnight Mary is pre-Code all the way with murder, adultery, drinking, unwed pregnancy, shoplifting, Loretta Young smoking (gasp!) and general moral waywardness. (The screenwriters for Baby Face worked on this so no wonder.)

The movie comes with a very enlightening commentary track. The picture transfer is outstanding.

#26 miliosr

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Posted 07 July 2012 - 04:10 PM

I purchased the Criterion Collection's 2011 release of Ernst Lubitsch's Design for Living (1933) w/ Fredric March, Gary Cooper and Mirian Hopkins:

http://en.wikipedia....or_Living_(film)

Paramount released Design for Living at the very end of 1933. With the possible exception of Baby Face (also 1933), no film did as much as Design for Living did to bring on full enforcement of the Code in 1934. And no wonder! The central conceit of the movie -- that Hopkins cannot choose between March and Cooper and therefore resolves to live in a menage a trois with them -- must have pushed public opinion of that time to its absolute limit. One can only wonder what censors of the time made of the very frank discussions of sex which occur in the movie!

March and Cooper are dynamite together as the best friends who find themselves in love with the same woman. They are like a proto-Bing Crosby/Bob Hope comedy team. It's a pity the two didn't make more films together.

Hopkins is the central pivot on which the movie turns and she gives a fine performance as the vacillating Gilda. I do find her accent off-putting, though. She hailed from Savannah but had the phony-baloney "refined" accent that so plagued early talkies. Why did so many female stars employ it when male stars like March and Cooper used regular American accents?

The Criterion Collection print transfer is outstanding.

Recommended.

#27 dirac

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Posted 13 August 2012 - 11:30 AM

I must respectfully disagree on some things - when I saw this years ago I thought Lubitsch's timing was off and the picture proceeded rather clunkily, for him. I knew the Coward play well and was surprised at how much of his dialogue was discarded - Ben Hecht rewrote quite drastically. Given that the principals were March, Cooper, and Hopkins instead of Lunt, Coward, and Fontanne, this is understandable, but again weird if you're familiar with the play.

I remember Hopkins as very appealing and the accent didn't bother me (and stars hailing from the South tended to drop their regional accents at this period). I was not crazy about Cooper or March in this.


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